Tag: Faith

23Aug

Unknown v. 2.0

August 3rd slipped by this year without a hint of fanfare (unless you count a dirty house as a celebratory tradition); it was a normal Wednesday in a normal workweek in a normal summer, and it completely slipped my mind that this normal was once the sheer unknown gaping underneath.

Four years ago, we packed our lives into a motley assortment of boxes and tracked a thing with feathers across the Atlantic. Through miracle and determination, Dan had found a job here that fit his abilities perfectly, and the opportunity to finally, finally take on our dream was marvel and terror at once. Some nights, we danced in a buzz of ideas, lit from the inside out with the champagne-glow of adventure. Other nights, we lay creased in thought, my hand resting on the precious variable in my womb as the whens and hows circled like vultures overhead.

There was no gingerly edging off the beaten path, no feeling out each new step from the safety of solid ground, no road signs assuring prosperity in 4,500 miles. All we had was the blank expanse of possibility and the faith to leap, spurred on by knowing our options boiled down to courage or regret. We took the leap, and on August 3rd, 2007, we landed on Italian soil to begin forging our new normal. In the four years since, we’ve settled into the comfort of friendships and routine, language becoming ever less of a barrier and the Italian culture sinking ever deeper into our bones. It’s more than we could have hoped for when we boarded the jet back in Philadelphia…

…which makes this new drop-off all the more dizzying.

Dan has turned in his job resignation. It was necessary for a variety of reasons, and it was time, but oh. We’re here again with the buzzing ideas and circling questions, minus one occupied womb and plus one meticulously written business plan, and while there are possibilities that make our heads spin with goodness, they’re still only possibilities. Our now-normal has a windblown pang to it. I keep taking mental inventory against my better judgment and trying to work out which facets of our life—home? church? friends? money?—will still be in place come Christmas. My heart balks as the calendar pulls us forward.

Never mind that we wouldn’t be here in the first place without that leap off the edge of reason; I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want that momentary weightlessness above the dark pit of my imaginings. I don’t want to have to rely so completely on a divine intention I still have difficulty trusting (and sometimes believing at all). I just want someone who can peek into the future and put a stamp of guarantee on our steps before we plunge into them. I would like the risk eliminated altogether, thankyouverymuch.

But if I’m honest with myself, it’s only the narrowest bit of my mind that’s clinging to the notion of safety. The broader scope of who I am recognizes that ours, like any good story in the making, runs on the cogs of adventure. These tenuous days swinging between doubt and hope are paragraph spaces in an unfolding work of art that teaches us to live as protagonists rather than as background filler, and the process is nothing short of exhilarating.

It seems clear that August 3rd has served its time as a memorial to our story and is now ready to pass on the honor to a new date, a new landing—whenever and however it may be.

30Jul

Breaking the Rules

I’m sitting halfway out of an open window, bare feet double-dipped in sunlight, espresso and milk on the rocks in my favorite mug. It’s just what I needed after a week of sulking weather and self-doubt. It’s also the first time in awhile I’ve been able to sit and corral all the little thought-bytes sifting around my soul, and seeing the bigger picture of what I’ve been processing piecemeal lately is its own kind of sunlight therapy.

Here’s the thing—

If traditional, commonly-accepted Christian interpretations of the Bible are true, then I am a better parent than God is (even when I’m grumpy).
The “good news” is just one facet of the worst news imaginable.
Free will is a test designed to fail.
There is no such thing as unconditional love.
The end justifies pretty much any means.
Jesus was a terrible evangelist.
It really is all up to me.

I have done enough mucking around in my soul over the last decade to say this with absolute certainty: If traditional, commonly-accepted Christian interpretations of the Bible are true, then I want nothing to do with God.

Nothing.

My philosophy professor in college taught that we are only motivated by a desire for truth, and I want to argue with him as strongly now as I did at my desk nine years ago. The idea that a God whose master plan involves eternal torture for most of humankind might really be truth is the thought that sends my spirituality into hiding the most quickly. If it’s true, then I’m damned anyway because I cannot—and would not, even if I could—love the orchestrator of infinite cruelty.

The spin on all of this is that I have felt God. I’ve looked miracles full in the face. I know the thrill of a nudged heart, the mystery of peace replacing panic, and the deep-rooted sparkle of love breaking rules, and the rule it’s breaking down right now is that I have to choose between my own conscience and truth… or at least other people’s version of truth.

Here in the sunlight, this statement doesn’t seem to carry the weight of all its sleepless nights and shadowed days, but I’ll say it anyway: I believe in God. This belief isn’t a thing I can dismiss any more than I can will away cloudy Julys or untannable skin or a questioning mind, but I’ve come to recognize it requires sacrifice on my part. I have to give up the notion that any of the seven translations of Bibles on our bookshelf is a perfect, untouched directive straight from divine lips. I have to let go of the mental hierarchy we make of religious leaders/teachers/authors with us laypersons on the rung marked “Irrelevant.” I have to say goodbye to my reputation as a good Christian and welcome labels like “heretic,” “apostate,” and “disturber of the peace.”

In essence, I have to give up the three things much of Christianity is built on—Bible worship, traditional teachings, and the appearance of holiness. I would never have imagined sacrifice for the sake of my beliefs looking like this. (Avoiding miniskirts and cigarettes? Well duh. Martyrdom? Sure. But voluntarily free-falling off the edge of orthodoxy? Uh… no.) However, if my path lies somewhere outside of traditional, commonly-accepted Christian interpretations of the Bible,
and if Jesus was a glimpse of the true God,
and if the heart-nudges I’ve felt are merely previews,
and if unconditional love matters, wins, is
then I’m willing to give up everything I’ve ever stood for—and then some—to find out where this belief will take me.

If I’m not mistaken, this is what they call faith.

 

25May

Untethered

I don’t know where to start writing about this, even just for myself. It’s too big for me, too heavy, and my soul just wants to stretch out on a beach chair in some blissfully deserted part of the world and fall asleep to the sound of waves. How do I write through where I am now without coming across as fickle or, as more than one person has suggested, deluded?

It’s true—my perspective was warped by years of religious brainwashing and abuse in God’s name—but if nothing else, growing up with people who swallowed someone else’s ideology taught me not to do the same. I refuse to adopt a belief system just because others tell me to, and that applies to Christianity as well. Have I ever believed in God because my own story and experiences led me there? Have I ever even had that option?

I once thought that every good thing that happened to me was an act of divine benevolence. Scholarships, job offers, relationships, fast recoveries, relationships—each a personalized stamp of God’s approval and generosity.  What does that mean for my friends who had to work their way through college though? What of my friends living off of unemployment? What of those who didn’t meet Mr. Right or never recovered or had their homes destroyed by a natural disaster or went bankrupt or lost a child? Where I used to see God’s puppet strings, I now see coincidence because I can’t deal with the implications of an all-powerful benefactor playing favorites.

It doesn’t mean God isn’t good. Rachel Held Evans wrote about the same internal debate, and I’m relieved to know that the struggle isn’t confined to my own head and that others have found other ways of measuring God’s goodness. In nature, for instance, I can’t help seeing the beauty of its blueprint… but I don’t see perfection, and I don’t see personal intention. Whether the sky cooperates for someone’s outdoor wedding or a hurricane devastates thousands of families, I simply see a flawed universe set to random.

And I understand now more than ever why some Christians I know cling to their beliefs at the expense of everything else in their lives, even peace of mind. Coming untethered from a doctrinal picket line is a frightening experience, and there is only a hairline difference between feeling liberated and feeling lost (I tend to vacillate between the two). I can’t turn off my questions any more than I can turn off my instinct to breathe, but I wish I could. Some days, I am absolutely certain I would choose unthinking acceptance over this mind that tracks down holes more easily than it does happiness.

I have problems with a lot of people who claim to take their marching orders directly from God, and this casts doubt on the whole notion of a converted life (at least a life converted from assholery). I have even bigger problems with the Bible, questions that I fear have no answers aside from churchy platitudes, and as much as I might want to, I cannot sincerely subscribe to the whole traditional Christianity package. I cannot accept that a loving God created people for heaven and then set their defaults to hell. I cannot believe that a Jesus who taught turning the other cheek represents the same deity who went around wiping out heathen nations in the Old Testament. I cannot see my way past the violence or the inconsistencies or the staggering injustice of what some call the “Good News.” I just can’t.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this leaves me. I’m not rejecting faith, but I can’t flash a denominational membership card either, and even the space just beyond the old tether’s radius is unfamiliar territory. My biggest hope is that God isn’t tied to the picket line either and that my uncertain journey forward will bring us face to face, maybe in an open-air café without closing hours where he can answer every question I’ve ever penned in my journal or posed to uncomprehending pastors or sensed without being able to articulate. More than anything, I want God to be real and different than I was always told, and I think this longing counts as faith for me right now. And if I am simply deluded, I  pray I’ll eventually stumble across that beach chair.

 

18Nov

Cherry Tree Creed

I’ve hinted on here before about my rather extreme religious upbringing, but I’m hesitant to say much more about it. One part of me goes a little giddy at Anne Lamott’s quote, “If my family didn’t want me to write about them, they should’ve behaved better.” Yes, yes, yes! I cheer, until it comes to actually putting the ragged parts of my story into words and I inevitably whisper No. I can’t tell whom exactly my people-pleasing brain is trying to protect, but it balks when my honesty tries to reach back more than a decade. Some details are too ugly for the light of day.

Nevertheless, the way I was raised is relevant to who I am today. Painfully relevant. After all, the frequent religious apologetics classes and brainwashing camps were my introduction to doubting God’s existence. The behavior I saw in the churches and cults our family was involved with taught me about the tight-lipped smiling delusion so many people define as Christianity.  The forced hours of Old Testament reading every week took me beyond disbelief in God into the dark territory of hatred. You get the idea, at least in part.

I  spent most of my life under such a heavy religious terror that my sense of logic had to be locked up along with my emotions and honesty. The most redeeming thing that could have happened was when I gave up caring and let my doubts and anger tumble out of hiding. Depression helped, oddly enough. I already felt so low that keeping up my pretense of believing God no longer mattered. Deal with it, I told him. I may have tried punching him a time or two as well.

I see now that it had to be completely destroyed, that old belief system with its blackened stone walls and bloody gouge marks.  I had to lose enough hope to operate the wrecking ball myself. And slowly—slowly enough to be revolutionary in the we-could-die-and-face-judgment-any-minute mindset I had been taught—a new belief system is being reconstructed in my heart. It has floor-to-ceiling windows and an indoor cherry tree, and I suspect it will be some kind of spa once it is finished. There are no longer any shadowy nooks for shame, eternal damnation, party politics, or generational curses to hang out in.

A friend lent me The Shack to read a couple of months ago (the amount of time I’ve spent “forgetting” to return it makes me think I should probably just buy my own copy already). Reading it felt very much like having my rib cage pried open and all of my struggles with God exposed to the operating room lights… and then gently re-formed into such an expansive hope that my body has trouble accommodating it. Between the fresh perspective offered in that book (I can’t tell you how much I love that God reveals herself as an African-American woman) and the radical kindness of Jesus’s words, many of my questions are finally finding their perfect fit in answers — ones that don’t traumatize me or require me to suspend logic or darken my soul atmosphere. I don’t have everything figured out yet—for instance, I’m still searching for an explanation for the contradictory, violent God depicted in the Old Testament—but I am so relieved to finally have a creed that lets my heart breathe deep:

(I refer to God with female pronouns because in that way I  can comprehend her differentness from the patriarchal judge of my childhood.)

I believe that:

The Bible…
is a picture of who God is and what a relationship with her is like,
not a comprehensive encyclopedia for all the facets of existence,
and not a textbook,
and not a list of rules
(as if we could follow the rules anyway).

Free will…
means God values humans enough to give us the freedom of choice
and limits herself by not overriding those choices,
even the bad ones
(which hurt her too),
but always providing opportunities even through the bad choices
for us to clearly see her love.

God…
does not instigate tragedy, only works through and beyond it
as the life-force of the universe,
the energy, the concept of light, the goodness,
merciful enough to do away with justice
because she is love
(and not gender specific ☺).

Jesus…
is God in human form,
not a human with divine superpowers but human-human,
with emotions and needs and frustrations,
whose life flowed from his relationship with God
(who neither orchestrated his death nor abandoned him,
only worked incredible good through it).

The Holy Spirit…
is their divine presence—undiluted love—
landscaping the beautiful mess of our hearts,
the piercing loveliness we feel during a certain song
or a beautiful day or moments of profound peace,
always here and never finished.

Prayer…
is simply the ongoing dialogue
as the four of us live together,
acknowledging that the unseen is real
and that relationship is all that truly matters,
and that God cares…
which could probably be called faith.

Life on earth…
is a process that won’t culminate until all is made new,
blessedly temporary
(which I know when I agonize over the too-few hours each day),
but  a good time for the element of choice to get worked out—
a messy and necessary step for a God who respects us
and who continues to participate in our stories
outside the bounds of time and breath.

Then heaven…
will be all this as it was meant to be
without the violation of a single free will,
every heart finally connected to God’s,
finally capable of channeling her extravagant love
and enjoying complete creativity and fulfillment along with her,
seeing the beautiful face of our planet unscarred—
life on earth, redeemed.

And I…
am not a convert or a heretic
or a warrior or a one-size-fits-all
or a guest of honor on the doorman’s list
or a project to be finished
but one member of a completely unique relationship with the Divine
who values me enough not to impose rules or limitations
and promises  a never-ending process
toward fullest life,
beautiful change accomplished hand-in-hand,
and a love I am just beginning to absorb.

15Sep

A Signature Faith

Faith and I have hit a rough patch lately. It’s only the five zillionth time or so that I’ve found myself alternately doubting God and storming against him; my inner teenager is determined to become a proper heathen, I think. In these times when my thoughts about religion smolder and char, the Bible reacts like gasoline, every word going up in an angry blaze. (I’m a joy to have at church, can you tell?) And anyway, I’ve never bought into Sola Scriptura for the same reason that I don’t believe Fox News when it claims to be the only unbiased channel—conflict of interest and all. I just cannot bring myself to blindly trust a source alleging to be the only truth.

So I sift through experience and impressions, listen to my instincts, taste the air for clues. I don’t have God’s character figured out, but I have to trust at least this: that he left his imprint on creation, that some remote corner of me bears his signature. And when I tune out theology altogether, I can almost start to make it out.

The first belief I find inked onto my heart is heaven. Doctrinally, the subject has always made me feel homesick and even miserable—hard golden streets and individual mansions in the sky for God’s groupies. No, no, no, my soul whispers. You were made for trees, whole unscarred forests of trees, and waterfalls and snowcapped mountains at sunrise. You were made to climb inside of symphonies and breathe art. And the puzzle pieces lock together in my mind: the moments I find myself on the cusp of pure creative energy… the healing, cleansing effects of beauty… this drive for more, always more out of life… the profound sensation that this world is broken… These compel me more than decades of sermons could that we were meant for eternity.

The other thing I can’t help believing, no matter how I feel about God, is Jesus. Maybe this makes no sense considering the Bible and I aren’t on speaking terms, but everything he said and did resonates so strongly with me and has so little to do odious churchy representations of him that I feel I must have always known him. I believe in him, not because I was told to (which only makes me want to go vandalize something), but because he wasn’t repulsed by doubt or greed or prostitution or shame or immaturity or nakedness or insanity. Because his commitment to world peace and soul-honesty would have offended many of the uppity religious personas today who profess to follow him. Because he drew people’s perspectives away from materialism and perfectionism toward extravagant generosity and fierce acceptance. Because he was radically different from anyone’s expectations and had love strong enough to forgive the people who butchered him.

The idea of heaven is counterintuitive to our five senses, and a kick-ass Jesus is counterintuitive to our religious traditions, and somehow, this helps convince me that they are true. And if these two things are the shape of God’s signature, then this helps convince me that faith is worth every minute of struggle.

21Aug

Conservative Hippyism

Dan turned on Audio Adrenaline this afternoon just especially to annoy me as I finished cooking lunch because he loves me so.

Remember this?

I used to like them because even though they were Christian (a requisite for my mid-‘90s music collection), the long-haired bass guitarist used to paint his nails. SUCH A REBEL. Anyway, I hadn’t listened to them in 150 years or so, and some of their lyrics startled me today:
“You can take God out of my school
You can make me listen to you
You can take God out of the pledge
But you can’t take God out of my head.”

I was still brainwashed a good conservative Baptist girl when the issue of prayer in public schools stirred up tremendous controversy in the church. I earnestly believed what I was told: that you would be arrested for having a Bible in your backpack or praying at your desk. Of course that was simple misinformation, spread in hysteria by panicked churchgoers. (If any of you are interested in the actual details of Supreme Court rulings, here ya go.) It never has been and probably never will be illegal to pray in schools; it just isn’t legal to force everyone else to participate. (I am so tempted to go ask the hysterical doomsayers of my childhood how they would have reacted if it had been Muslim prayer or Native American rituals or Wiccan chants being banned… but I guess that is just the heathen in me.)

The subject launched Dan and I into one of those long coffee-fueled conversations that remind us how glad we are to be on the same page. (He calls us “conservative hippies,” a fabulous description for two people feeling out the balance between standards and open mindedness.) We’re coming into that delicate stage of parenting where our preschooler absorbs every word she hears and works it into her own context of the world, and I desperately want to protect her from all the damaging teachings I grew up with. For Dan, who grew up in a different (and more, uh, functional) culture, the challenge is in noticing all the subtle hints of religious dogma that pop up.

For instance, I was reading a new picture book to Natalie today—a gift from relatives who no doubt found the story wholesome. However, I almost threw it away when we got to the page when the spoiled little mice realize how ungrateful they’ve been and start to cry. “I’m so dreadfully ashamed of myself,” sobs the girl mouse, who had refused to eat her parsnips on page 6. Wham. One little sentence packing a life-long punch of obligatory guilt. I know it all too well. (I decided not to make a big deal out of it at the time and finished the story—Natalie has a few years yet before she needs to learn about the religious-cultural doctrine of shame—but that book is never going back on her shelf.)

Dan reminded how much of this idea of making oneself miserable to be moral comes from ancient Jewish culture, and later, Roman Catholicism. (It’s not, by the way, from the Bible. In fact, Paul wrote a lengthy letter directly to the Romans explaining that forgiveness was God’s job, not theirs, and was free, free, free, free, and did he mention free?) It’s incredible to me that shame, a monumentally damaging emotion, is held up as a hallmark of holiness in so many circles.

I’m still unsure how to cultivate the spiritual side of my daughters in a way that will be relevant to them now. I can guarantee I will never be hammering the concept of obedience into their heads as the path to preschool Godliness. (We do teach them to obey us, by the way, just not in the vein of “morality is the point of life, now clean your room.”) Neither will shame or deeply burrowing regret ever be sensations we teach them. We’ll let them read the Bible in time, once they are able to process context and applicability, but there will be no gruesome history lessons for now. (Do you know how many Noah’s Ark-themed gifts I’ve had to throw away? I would like to punch whoever keeps insisting that the story of worldwide homicide and destruction is good for kids just because some animals were involved. And Jesus’s horrific torture, murder, and abandonment by God? They deeply traumatized me as a young child, and I am not willing to put my girls through that at such sensitive ages, no matter how foundational the story is to our faith.)

That only leaves the question of what do we teach them now? I still find myself a bit undone spiritually, decades of righteous BS unraveling while my true un-churchy beliefs begin to form. I feel bad that the girls are not benefitting from a mother who has her own convictions figured out like the mothers of my past all did (or pretended to), but perhaps my honesty in the matter will be enough. Maybe my lack of pretensions can accomplish what severe doctrine failed to do for me: inspire their spirituality to grow and breathe and seek out the truth with confidence.

28Jan

Focaccia

Pearl Jam is exactly the right music with which to have a religious crisis. You just know that Eddie Vedder is singing from the depths of his own dreadful, gravelly crises and that he would understand if you suddenly shouted a very bad word into the angsty void. (I like Catherine Newman’s use of “focaccia” without the last two syllables.)

I am writing this knowing full-well that it is not socially acceptable to have a religious crisis, at least not in the Christian world. I imagine most other religions are the same way though, too convinced of their own rightness to allow wiggle-room. Admitting weakness to churchgoers inevitably spawns a feeding frenzy, and you haven’t met sharks until you’ve ticked off a Southern Baptist. I know. I used to be a Southern Baptist poster child, a preacher’s kid with curled bangs reaching up to heaven and more righteous indignation than the Bible. Yes, I would very much like to smack my former self too.

I managed to survive the “God loves my parents and thus hates me” crisis when I was thirteen, and then the “God might not exist” crisis prompted by my Christian apologetics class at age fifteen (Feel free to bask a moment in the irony. Are your pores opening yet?), and then the “God doesn’t listen to me,” “God doesn’t talk to me,” and “God is a misogynist” crises in college–all without telling a soul. The idea is to get over your shameful lapse of faith quickly and quietly and then tell everyone your “testimony” of how God brought you through.

If you’ve ever hit a rough patch in your spiritual journey, you know just how much it sucks. You feel like you’ve done something horribly wrong. You feel embarrassed for not having it all together. You feel like a hypocrite for not understanding the system you’re supposed to promote. Most of all, you feel a bottomless, inky-black loneliness. If you can’t talk to God, who’s left?

If I were to name my current state of loneliness, it would be “God exists, but I don’t like him.” What does one do with that, not liking God? Everything triggers it–mealtime prayers, bedtime stories with Natalie, news reports, movies, that sharp doorway that deliberately gets in the way of my elbow. When we eat, I think about all the people starving across the world. How can he say he cares more for humans than for birds? When I hear news about the Middle East, I think about the endless violence and terrorism. How can he say the government is on his shoulders? When I cuddle my precious Sophie, I think about the baby he sent to be tortured, murdered. How can he call this the “good news?” When I read the Bible, I can’t see past the God-sanctioned warmongering, the murdering, the animal-sacrificing, the salt-pillaring, the earth-swallowing, the flooding, the exiling. How can he call himself good?

You have no idea how much I feel like the first un-closeted gay right now. I mean, am I normal? Do any others exist? How do they… uh, do this? Will acceptance possibly outweigh the judgment aimed in my direction? Will anyone be able to help me without just trying to cure my “condition?” Where is the backspace button for my mouth?

It doesn’t matter; I’ve said it. I don’t like God, at least not right now, and hopefully that’s not as scary in his mind as it is in mine. I also hope he’s not offended if I take this opportunity to say exactly what’s on my mind, that being FOCACCIA. (Imagine that being growl-screamed, Eddie Vedder style, please.)

© Copyright 2015, all rights reserved.
Site powered by Training Lot.
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.